WHY IS THE BOSTON OLYMPICS BID EVEN CONTROVERSIAL ?

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^ The Bid Committee’s proposed volleyball site : Squantum Point Park, a currently under-ussed plot of State owned land.

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Last night I got angry at the public Boston 2024 meeting held in Quincy’s Marina Bay. When an old guy like me gets angry, people notice, and some did. And that’s OK. I get angry sometimes. Few occasions have aroused more anger in me than the opposition to our City hosting the 2024 Olympics. What the blazes is this opposition all about ?

As I see it, having our City host the 2024 summer games is an enormous honor, a great blessing for our city that puts us on the tourist A list and confirms our status as America’s most sports-minded metropolis. Hosting the Games means big, big infusions of money and jobs, development of undeveloped land, transportation improvements, all sorts of new thinking, new suggestions, new concepts. It sounds tacky to call it a flower blossoming, but the symbol isn’t overblown.

Yes, it’s also a three week party. Is that bad ? Cities all over the world hold huge public festivals, week long parties and even longer. I’ve been to quite a few, in three or four of those cities, and I enjoyed everything, even the traffic and the overcrowded hotels, the late night noise, the restaurants so full it was hard to get served. Enjoyed it all.

Given all of the above, I was surprised, enormously, to find opposition arising, months ago, to the Games bid. I’m even more surprised now, to find said opposition hardening into obstruction and reputation-smearing. The opposition is small, but it is loud and has caused distant observers to wonder, what the dickens is going ON in our city ? It’s a question I too ask. Sometimes I ask it angrily. Last night I blew out an FY at one remark being made, quite over the line, by an opponent who, during questions, chose to read a statement calling the personal bona fides of the Games Bid Committee into question.

(Disclosure : I have friends who work for the Bid Committee and I value their friendship. I know them to be honorable and hard working civic activists. If this compromises my “objectivity,” so be it.)

The Bid Committee has had to revise their Plan and fill out its extremely complex details of transportation, traffic, land use, housing, land acquisition, construction, security, staffing, and environmental permitting — all of that — ad hoc while being sniped at every minute on every detail by people who want the Bid to fail and are using their sniping and obstruction to push it to failure.

I still have no idea why they are talking this stance, or why they are pushing it beyond the envelope of opposition into determined obstruction and accusation. Who would not want our city to take in billions of dollars in tourist money, to not have billions of investor dollars spent upon infrastructure, housing, and construction; would not want to see the thousands of jobs the games will require ? would not want to see our rather aging, overly neighborhood-narrow city break out of its social confines ? would not want to enjoy the party ?

The reasons adduced make no sense. Displacement ? Just the opposite it. Minions of corporate profit ? Corporations earn profit by doing things, things that require employment. And so on.

Last night in Quincy, the hearing on using Squantum’s Point Park for volleyball competition quickly lost focus. Part of that was faulty presentation. The Committee talked for half an hour about the games in Boston before even mentioning the Quincy proposal. The Committee also sounded defensive. It talked about “legacy investments” rather than the Games themselves. Not one word of joy or excitement did I hear, not a sentence about sports. Why not ?

Given the defensiveness of the Committee;’s presentation, and the focus on “legacy,” with only a brief address about Point Park, it was probably inevitable that the “public comment” was entirely bogarded by the “Opposition”: for its usual purposes : obstruction, petty critique, demeaning the Committee’s bona fides.

Still, there were a few statements by supporters, and a handful of appropriate questions — one in particular, by a local newsman, about traffic problems between North Quincy T stop and Point Park. Those questions, however, seemed overtalked by the opposition’s well-rehearsed focus on obstruction, petty critique, and smear. Those of us who wanted actually to learn the Committee’s Plan for renovating Point Park, and for bringing spectators to the proposed stadium on site,came away quite frustrated to sit through negativity for its own sake when what was wanted was to explore best ways of making it work.

If the Committee is to going to hold more public meetings, and I guess that it is, it should establish these rules : 1. no one who has delivered an opposition speech during public comment time at one meeting should be allowed to deliver it again at other meetings — one time per customer  2. questions should be questions, not speeches of opposition (or support). 3. one question means one question, not two or three. 4. The Committee should never sound defensive or focus on mind-numbing administrative detail rather than the wide vista of sport and excitement.

Perhaps these rules of engagement might lead to public meetings worth attending.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

NOT PERFECT — BUT DEFINITELY GOOD

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reason to smile : the two amigos get a budget done AND significant MBTA reform

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The FY 2016 Budget deal just announced by Massachusetts’ s legislature gives the Governor almost all of what he wanted. It’s even more a tremendous victory for House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who early on backed almost all of the Governor’s agenda and secured enactment of everything that he backed. Into the budget DeLeo placed the MBTA reforms that he and the Governor supported and thereby managed to get them past the State Senate’s quite different MBTA legislation.

The $ 38.1 billion budget adopts several principles that probably would not have passed but for Governor Baker having won the 2014 election : no new taxes or fees; expansion of the earned income tax credit; and MBTA reform that establishes both a Fiscal Control Board with power to direct the entire MBTA operation and a three-year set-aside of the Pacheco Law (which mandates that the State Auditor must first approve any proposed MBTA outsourcing). Baker deserves great political credit for advancing these principles clearly, for sticking to them, and for persuading the public to support them. This is how governance should work.

To read the budget proposal itself, click this link to the Boston Globe’s story : http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/07/07/state-budget-negotiators-reach-deal/rmTDZFxHlaLKmBeXz1X6iI/story.html

So : how did we get here, and what comes next ? The first — how did we get here — is quite the story. That the Governor and Speaker allied their goals so closely, and that the Speaker was able to win unanimous (!) support in the House for these goals, results almost certainly from the leadership challenge raised months ago by Senate President Rosenberg. The Speaker responded to that challenge forcefully in a Boston Globe op-ed, and by persuading the House that its authority as a body was at stake : how else did he get the House’s “progressives” to vote for a budget featuring no new taxes and fees, when new taxes are one of Massachusetts Progressives’ top goals ? Equally, DeLeo “triangulated” : by allying with the Governor and bringing his entire body of 160 members with him, he outgunned the Senate and isolated it. This, despite the Senate’s brilliant “Massachusetts Conversations” Forums held all across the State and well attended, as well as fully reported in the media.

As for what comes next, a separate Transportation bill is working through legislative committee processes and will probably be voted upon within a month. Hopefully that bill will reinforce the powers granted to the Fiscal Control board by the Budget agreement. Changes to the MBTA’s collective bargain arbitration system may portend : the T’s unions are the only public worker groups in the State whose contract arbitration awards do not require approval by an elected body. As for the T’s pension system, reform of its accounting system are already under way., led by former Governor candidate Steve Grossman, who understands the T pension as well as anyone.

Beyond this, we will have to see if the T reforms enacted into law actually get established. Sounds coming from the Carmen’s Union — and backed by other unions in the state — suggest they will fight implementation of the Fiscal Control Board’s orders every step of the way : the power to outsource, and the power to mandate new work rules. Make no mistake : T operation needs complete overhaul top to bottom, union workers and salaried managers both. I suggest the following rules of work :

1.Overtime approvals need to be signed off by two (2) levels of supervisor. No worker should be allowed to work more than 20 hours of overtime a month except in case of a declared emergency

2.Inventory foremen need to be bonded personally liable for missing inventory.

3.The equipment repair shops need to be performance monitored and evaluated quarterly.

4.Unexcused absences must be subject to discipline set forth in an employee handbook that every worker (including salaried) must sign for and admit to having read in full.

5.All T employees should be expected to work diligently, to treat the public with courtesy always, and to work as  a team, monitoring each other’s performance. Merit pay raises need to be written into any new Carmen’s Union contract.

6.Mini-buses need be called into service for low-ridership runs.

7.Only after every reasonably feasible efficiency has been put in place, and the riding (and taxpaying) public has been convinced that the T has changed, can there be new revenue for expansion of the system, for purchase of new trains and buses, and for wage raises for employees who meet stated performance objectives..

The above reforms should help give Boston an MBTA that works for those whom it is supposed to serve.

And now, a caution : by no means should T reform be an arena for union-busting, any more than it should be a call for union stubbornness. It does the Carmen no favor to pit themselves against everybody else in the State, nor does it do the economy of the State any good to call for an end to the Carmen’s wage protections. The Carmen do a difficult job as it is, and they will be called upon to do a job still more burdensome. They should be rewarded financially for doing that job, if they do do it; not punished or demonized. Breaking the union is not a goal of the Governor. It certainly is not on the Speaker’s task sheet. Those who advocate it — and I see them commenting all the time in social media — need to back off and rethink what they are about. Likewise union intransigence — and I see this, too, in social media — will not stand either. The public isn’t having it.

Extremism has become almost the norm in today’s internet-real time political discourse. I reject it. The legislature has rejected it. The budget and T reforms it has agreed to have not aced the challenge, but they are have enabled us to get there. That is good enough for me, and it should be good enough for you.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

WHY A POLARIZED AMERICAN ELECTORATE MATTERS

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^ A polarized electorate either reveres or fears a President Clinton — hopefully with good reason.

It’s a commonplace to observe that, today, there is polarization in the American electorate. By “polarization”: I mean that voters, instead of looking to see how can best appeal to most Americans — the strategy of “centrism” — activist voters today advance their own views to the exclusion of other views.

This condition is hardly unique to the electorate of 2015. Radical division dominated elections in the 1930s, and in the 1910s, and in 1896. Radical opposition led directly to the Civil War. We have known more periods of radical opposition than its opposite.

Why does it matter so much ? Why has it had at times such dire consequences ? The answer lies in our Constitution itself. That document did not, create a unitary government such as Great Britain, Germany,and France, for example enjoy. Instead, our Constitution established 14 governments — now 51 — in which local sentiment dominated all but the one central government, which itself was chosen entirely by voters of the other 13 governments.

Because every one of those other governments arise from their own, local, par6yicular sentiments, and not from a national unity, division was thus built into the Constitution as a matter of explicit policy. As a result, parties defeated in one national election retain sufficient power via the other 50 governments to continue re-fighting battles lost, for as long as the losing interests retain that local government power.

This is why today’s polarized electorate matters.

In Great Britain, when the labor Party is defeated — or the Tories — it is defeated nationally and often stays out of power for a long time, until conditions — and thus the entire party — change. The Tory Party of today is in no way that of 1950, or of 1880, or of 1830. The labor Party of today is in no way the party of 1975., or of 1915. Yet in America, because the same political battles have the ability to get fought over and over no matter how many times defeated in one place or another, the two parties look almost precisely the same as in 1896, or 1860, or 1836, with the labels reversed.

Elections work only if the winning policy can defeat the losing policy decisively, conclusively. It is not enough to keep a revolving door revolving, so that one policy gets adopted for a while, only to be replaced by a policy that negates the other. That way, the government accomplishes nothing and becomes a kind of self-defeating obstruction, something unworthy of any serious voter’s allegiance. We are in that position now. We have been in it since 2000.

It would be far better were we to continue moving toward the parliamentary system that both parties have already begun, when the base Senate elections not on local issues but on “control of the Senate.” As un-Constitutional (in the core sense of the word) as that move is, it reflects a felt need that having one election result cancelling out the prior election, only to be itself cancelled by the next, benefits no one. Perhaps if we create a de facto unitary electorate, in which one party can defeat the other nationwide, we can relieve our polity of the locally determined structures of never-ending conflict, leaving to state governments purely state interests, as we in Massachusetts have, for local office, been doing now for 25 years.

Something of the sort seems fully in train right now. We are creating parliamentary government, led by a president who is more a prime ministe5r than not — with the executive authority that a prime minister possesses, far more power than a president has under the Constitution — because we want elections to actually decide things.We want them to get things done.

This is why it matters that we have such a polarized electorate.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

“DEVELOPER SPECULATION” IS WHY BOSTON EXISTS

Boston 2024

^ “developer speculation” ? Yes, because that is how Citi9es are built and re-built

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Yesterday a person who does not want to see Boston host the 2024 Olympics called the project “developer speculation” as if that were something bad. Actually, it’s how Boston got built. East Boston, South Boston, most of Dorchester, much of Roxbury, of Brighton and Jamaica Plain, and almost all of West Roxbury, Roslindale, Mattapan, and Hyde Park were built by developers speculating.

In that same vein, Boston 2024 will also be a project of developers speculating, and good that it will be. That developers are willing to risk their money — yes, their money — to create things that currently do not exist is our City’s good fortune. We should do all in our power to enable their speculations to become actual.

Cities exist because that’s where the money is — the commerce, the transactions, and the structures in which these take place — and people want to be close to it, even to reside near it.

Cities are not photographs, they are movies., By which i mean that cities do not reflect one time frame, they move through time, changing, evolving, creating, destroying, renovating, abut always generating commerce and profit. If they do not do this, they wither and even die.

Boston’s great era of developer speculation — of commerce and innovation — took place during about 130 years beginning in about 1820 and ending in about 1955. During that period, almost all the neighborhoods we now take for granted were built up to the shapes we see them in. Downtown took shape then too, as did the waterfront, the transportation systems. Shipbuilding was revolutionized by Donald McKay, creator of the “clipper ship.” The City’s population grew from about 65,000 to about 800,000. There was much money to be made, and many made it, most of them immigrants like the Kennedys and the Volpes, Drukers and Callahans, Filenes and Goldbergs, Flatleys and Corcorans.

Developer speculation also meant good jobs for Swedish wood-crafters, Scottish ship-caulkers, Irish and Quebecois rail workers, Italian construction crews and quarry workers, Jewish tailors and merchants. Boston became a core city for Building Trades unions and remains so today.

It was a dynamic City, the Athens of America. Horace Mann invented the universal public school; here. Massachusetts General hospital was the crucible of much medical discovery. Harvard was transformed, MIT created. Integration and abolition took shape in and around Boston. Prejudices grew and were defeated here. Modern city politics was invented here.

All of it fueled and enabled by developer speculation.

We forget all this. How easily we forget.

We forget this because few of us have personal memory of that Boston. The City that we grew up in was a city in decline, where very little developer speculation took place and where the one huge, traumatic development all do recall was the destruction of the West End, certainly the hugest planning mistake ever made in  Boston and an exemplar, that destruction is not development but its opposite. Removal of the West End decreased the population of a city already fully challenged by large numbers of residents fleeing to the suburbs.

There was little developer speculation in a city that people were getting out of. Rent control, which the City attempted disastrously, assured there would be none at all. By the late 1970s downtown Boston was completely under-utilized, the waterfront a smelly mass of rotting piers and vacant lofts. Fort Point too. Downtown was fast becoming one huge ruin.

As for the neighborhoods, there was almost no new construction anywhere. When in 1970 my Aunt Liz came back to East Boston, for my Mom’s funeral, after living away for over 50 years, she and I drove through Eagle Hill and the Central Square area where our family had lived. Aunt Liz recognized every single building !

By the 1980s entropy was spurred away by the Faneuil Market project — which seemed crazy at the time; today development in Boston has become the norm, at least in Downtown, and is a significant generator of the commerce that enables a city. But one thing has not changed : our mindset. Many Bostonians still think of the City as something to be preserved from change, as if the change that makes a city live were still a kind of West End bulldozing.

as a result, in too many neighborhoods, development is treated as a threat, not a boon, and projects are rejected by design review groups in which opponents of change vastly outnumber those who want it. Few seem to realize that discouraging development devalues  a neighborhood. Some who do recognize it actually prefer devaluation.

There is one other mistake that many Bostonians make : a city does not only belong to those who reside within its boundaries.  A City belongs also to those who work in it, to those who bring commerce to it and those whose commerce travels through it. A City belongs to these people too because without them there would be hardly any City left.

Here is where Boston 2024 comes in. The Olympic games will bring enormous development to the City, increase its population, balloon its traffic (in both senses of the term, and there’s a reason why the word has both meanings), make Boston even more commercial and innovative than it has become.

To the extent that Boston 2024 brings change and traffic, commerce and development into the City, it is to be welcomed. The only — only — question is, can Boston 2024’s managers manage the project ? In all of its co-ordination of complexity ? To that question I have no sure answer yet; but I do know this : change will happen anyway, but un-co-ordinated, piecemeal, and small-minded, with much that we could have not coming to us because in small projects, the developers think small, thread-bare, and stingy.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Spjhere